The Narrative Audit™: Moving your audience from Interest to Action

No matter what your organization, the perennial challenge is moving your audience from “that sounds nice” to direct engagement. For most companies, that would ideally end in a sale or purchase. For non-profits, that might look like donations, volunteering, or utilizing services.

Regardless, there can be a sizable gap between interest and action. In order to help non-profit clients figure out how to close that gap, we developed the Narrative Audit™ – a unique methodology that combines content analysis and in-depth interviews with donors and prospects.


The story of the Ecological Preservation Association

A major regional environmental non-profit (we’re calling it the “Ecological Preservation Association,” a name we made up to preserve client confidentiality) had been producing highly compelling, targeted communications to its donors and constituents for decades.

As high quality as they are, the Association still wanted to make sure that every communication was maximizing its connection with constituents and that they were accomplishing this consistently across channels.

Further, like a lot of other non-profits, they’re particularly interested in knowing how Millennial and Gen Z constituents – who we know are highly attuned to environmental issues – view the Association, and how they might be motivated to make the Association part of their environmental activism.

Enter the Narrative Audit.


Act One – What story is the Association telling?

Willow started with a deep dive into the Association’s existing communication and outreach materials, analyzing the content specifically through a storytelling lens:

  • What is the plot of the Association’s narrative?
  • How is the Association portraying itself as a “character” in its story?
  • Is there an overarching antagonist?
  • Is the setting richly evoked?
  • What is the role of the audience?
  • Does the reader feel immersed in the experience, or are they viewing it from a distance?

In the case of the Association, we found a largely consistent and well-integrated narrative that portrayed the local ecology vibrantly and richly, and presented the Association as a Champion of that ecosystem, a “vigilant guardian” alert for threats and ready to swing into action when needed to right a wrong.

This is a strong presentation, and the longstanding success of the Association proves its effectiveness. But our analysis also uncovered potential opportunities to intensify the connection between the Association and its audience, by clarifying an antagonist and bringing the reader in closer to the action.

Additionally, we suspected that the Association’s constituents shared deep, motivating values beyond love of nature and a desire to preserve it. In order to uncover those shared values – and to articulate any forces that might be acting against them – we needed to listen to the audience.


Act Two – What story does the audience need to hear?

Through a series of in-depth interviews with Association donors and prospects, we uncovered several shared, deeply-held values. It goes without saying that the primary value is a love of the local ecosystem and a desire to preserve its natural beauty – after all, that’s the mission of the Association. But three others also emerged from our research:

These are the kinds of values that inspire people and motivate them to action, especially when you can clarify a force that threatens or opposes those values or – the opposite – when you present real opportunities to live into them. The more the Association’s communications can touch on these core values, the more they will reach the audience “where they live.”

We also discovered some key differences in how donors and prospects wanted to engage with the Association. Older constituents were satisfied to show their support through giving, while younger ones craved more active involvement.

Understanding this distinction is critical for the Association to reach its various constituencies in the way they want to be engaged today. And, because a supporter’s desired involvement changes over time, efforts to actively engage younger donors now help to secure the Association for the future.


Act Three – What can we do with this information?

The Narrative Audit allowed Willow to give the Association both solid information and recommendations for specific actions:

  1. Insight into the deeply held values and beliefs of its audience
  2. Strategies for closing the gap between goodwill and action
  3. Illustrations and examples of how current communications can be re-oriented to drive the most impact
  4. A checklist that can guide internal staff and outside contributors, to keep messaging rooted and on point

The Narrative Audit is a powerful tool for making sure your organization’s story is compelling and consistent across communications, touching your audience right where they live.

That’s what turns interest into action.

If you’re curious about how a more resonant narrative could impact your organization, click on the button below, and we’ll be in contact.

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